Police volunteers dedicated to saving disabled parking - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

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Police volunteers dedicated to saving disabled parking

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Posted: Tuesday, June 21, 2011 8:00 am

Having a disability is hard enough but two Ahwatukee Foothills residents are making sure that at least parking can be made a little easier.

"It's hard enough to get along, especially in our heat," said Jack Garvin, an Accessibility Compliance Enforcement (ACE) volunteer for the Phoenix Police Department. "Those spaces are usually right up front and that's important. We get told all the time ‘I was only going to be a minute.' It doesn't matter."

Garvin has been patrolling handicap parking for about three years with his fellow volunteer, Rex Christian. Both men are retired and decided to volunteer as a way to get out of the house.

They usually go out about once a week, always together, in their volunteer uniforms. They try to choose a busy day when traffic might be worse but they can be out at any time. The men have been through specific training for this job and they take it very seriously.

The ACE program has been around since May of 2000, according to the coordinator of the program, Officer Walter Olsen of the Phoenix Police Department Traffic Education and Safety Unit.

"This program has been enormously successful," Olsen said. "We saw the numbers plummet. When the program started in May of 2000 we were writing thousands of tickets a year. Now we're writing about 1,500 or less a year. We'd love to work ourselves out of a job but at this point I don't think that'll happen, but we've certainly had a very positive impact on those spaces and the people who genuinely need them."

The police department has a number of different ways citizens can volunteer.

The ACE program requires months of training before applicants are authorized to write tickets.

They must go through the same application process that any officer would go through and then they have very specific classes for the program they are interested in.

They must learn where to find the placard, how to search a car for a placard if it's not in the correct spot, how to write a ticket, to take photos of a violation, how to deal with a conflicted customer and how to contact the department if they have any questions.

They go through an operations manual as well as training by current volunteers.

The men are not only expected to patrol carefully but they are called on to defend any tickets they write in court.

"When they decided to volunteer that was the program they chose and it actually worked out really well for us," Olsen said. "The two work as a team. They're both very positive minded. They're not aggressive in any fashion or form. They're just two nice gentlemen who enjoy doing this and the community is benefiting from their free service."

Garvin and Christian feel like they benefit from their service as well.

"I get a lot of satisfaction knowing I'm helping out," Christian said. "We're really appreciated by the uniformed officers. The more tickets we write the less they have to and they can move on to more pressing issues."

The men say their job is not just about writing tickets. They try to educate the public on the need for disabled parking.

They usually write about one to two tickets each time they're out but they believe on a good day, they write none at all.

"We're not trying to write more tickets," Garvin said. "We're just trying to educate the public. These spaces are important. We have a lot of handicap persons in the community who are challenged enough. The city has set aside these spaces for them to make it easier to get around. People need to help us help them."

The Phoenix Police Department is always looking for more dedicated volunteers to join its Citizens Offering Police Support, or COPS, program.

If you have questions or wish to volunteer, contact Officer Larry Horton at (602) 262-6925.

"I need people who are positive minded, not looking for conflict and want to do it for the right reasons," Olsen said. "I'm confident that the two men working in the Foothills area are those kinds of people. They're not doing it for a power trip they honestly do it for the right reasons. They want to give back and they want to keep those spaces available."

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com

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